When I was in graduate school, plenty of people asked me the dreaded question every anthropology student hears: “What are you going to do with that?” The question is a good one. In 2012 Forbes ranked anthropology as the worst college major for getting a well-paying job. In 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott called cited anthropology as one of the more useless college majors, encouraging college students to go into STEM fields. In fact, his words were: “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”Read more
When I tell people I meet that I’m an anthropologist, I sometimes get a blank stare in return. Occasionally someone will ask if I’ve dug up any cool artifacts lately or if I’m like that lady on the TV show Bones. One acquaintance nicknamed me “Jane Goodall.” Another challenged me to name all of the dinosaurs ever discovered. Even people who do know a little about cultural anthropology are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I did my doctoral fieldwork among corporate executives on the island of Singapore, a global city, rather than studying the kava ceremony on the island of Tonga, for example.Read more
The first time I lived abroad, in Argentina, I wrote an excited letter to an old friend. “I am living in a place that is very similar to the States in most ways,” I told him, “and yet everything in daily life takes place in Spanish. More amazing altogether: while there are tons of things I don’t understand, I am able to function very well.”Read more
One morning during my fieldwork in Mexico, the dog dragged my freshly washed dress off the line and into the mud. I swore at him under my breath, and a member of the family I was staying with heard me but said nothing.Read more
When my friends in Mexico migrate within the country, they always go to places where they have family or townspeople. Even if they’ve heard that jobs are more plentiful elsewhere, it’s better to have a network. The community can get you a job, they tell me. In fact, the community is practically obligated to get you a job. The community is obligated to do anything within its power to support its members.Read more
It’s easy to assume that cultures correspond to countries, but the reality is much more complex, and the same is true for languages. You probably know, for instance, that Spanish is spoken in dozens of countries around the world, and that it is spoken a bit differently in each. But what you may not realize is that cultural and linguistic differences occur on a much more local level as well.Read more
Imagine that you are in charge of promoting diversity within your organization. You promptly start recruiting people with diverse backgrounds, and initially achieve some success. But not long after you see morale problems. New employees don’t feel welcome, and quit. Established employees feel that their talents and abilities are no longer valued, and so they quit too. Complaints of harassment and unfair treatment increase.Read more
Suppose you have a young employee, Emily, who has been on the job for just a month. She has been working hard on a marketing report, putting in long hours. She has just completed the report and you want to reward her. So you call her into your office, congratulate her, and offer to write a note of commendation for her in the company newsletter. You expect her to be thrilled, but instead she looks disappointed and discouraged. What went wrong?Read more
About twelve years ago, a friend yelled at me for what he saw as constant interruptions. “You never let me finish talking,” he said.
I was confused. When had I ever interrupted him?
After much discussion, I finally figured it out. What he considered an interruption — saying “right” or “yes” while he was talking — was the only way I knew to listen politely. In my experience, remaining completely silent while someone else was speaking meant you were checked out.Read more
If you ever have to work with people who don’t speak any of the same languages as you, you will probably have to use an interpreter to make yourself understood. Interpreters are a highly valuable resource for cross-cultural communication — but when things go wrong, they can go very wrong.Read more